Affordable Sustainable Fashion—Is There Such a Thing?


If you would like to start living a more sustainable lifestyle but aren’t sure where to start, how about with your clothing? The current trend for “throwaway” fashion is incredibly damaging to the environment and, on a more personal note, it is not great for our bank balances either. All too often we buy something, wear it once or twice, then assign it to the back of our wardrobe. If you must buy something new, try to stick to brands offering sustainable practices. A great ‒ and budget friendly ‒ alternative is to hunt out secondhand or vintage pieces.

Here are some places to find affordable and sustainable clothes:

Charity shops

Although charity shops vary hugely in terms of the quality of their offerings, you will find gems in the most unlikely locations. Although many charity shops these days are stuffed full of cheap, high-street pieces, you will be rewarded for persistence with the odd vintage or high-end item. In addition to clothes, charity shops are great places to pick up vintage handbags and other accessories, such as costume jewellery and even shoes and boots. If you are after more high-end pieces, concentrate on charity shops in more upmarket districts where you are more likely to find designer or luxury pieces.


eBay is a bargain hunter’s delight, even if it is not quite the cut-price paradise it was 10 years ago. Savvy shoppers know that they have to put in leg work to get the best bargains on eBay, but there are still great items to be found. The key to successfully finding bargains on eBay is persistence and careful keyword searching. If you are after a vintage 1960s dress, try a combination of search terms to cover any words the seller may have used to list it. Buying secondhand clothes means you are recycling something that already exists rather than contributing any further to the pollution and destruction caused by the mass market fashion industry today.

Affordable high-street brands

H&M is known for it’s cheap yet disposable clothing—and it’s rightfully faced criticism for this. So it’s nice to see the company’s new H&M Conscious brand, which features affordable sustainable fashion and adheres to more ethical guidelines, such as fair wages and resource conservation. M&S has long been one of the most eco-friendly big chains and the brand has extensive policies in place regarding worker conditions and environmental issues. M&S’s Plan A program is committed to protecting the planet and ensures that sustainable materials are responsibly sourced and that minimal waste is created. Zara is another high street retailer with excellent eco-friendly and sustainability credentials, and the company is a great choice for anyone wanting up-to-the-minute fashion without guilt.

“Upcycling” Fashion

Merging bits and pieces of old fabrics together to make a new garment is nothing new—economically minded people have been doing that for generations. Now the fashion industry and modeling agencies are taking note, weaving sustainability with high-fashion in new lines of “upcyled” clothes made from recycled materials. You can jump on this trendy and environmentally friendly bandwagon by supporting these innovative brands or, if you’re handing at the sewing machine, creating your own upcycled clothes.

“Fair Trade” labels

Many mainstream retailers now display Fair Trade labels on some, if not all, of their clothes. The Fair Trade avenue is a great way for shoppers to determine at a glance whether a garment was made using fair and sustainable practices. Specialist Fair Trade retailers selling only approved items can be found easily online, and on many U.S. and UK high streets. For the Fair Trade scheme to truly have an impact, prices need to be fair to workers and also affordable to consumers. Although you may pay slightly more than in the cheapest retailers, the difference will be small and you can shop with a clear conscience.

Gabby Revel